Do you need these techniques for more assertiveness and self-respect in any interaction?

Have you ever seen a champagne pyramid at a wedding? Can you imagine one now? They pile up all the glasses, and the new couple begins pouring from topmost glass until the champagne overflows into the others.

Can you imagine if they began filling up the bottom glasses and worked their way up? It would be clumsy, ineffective, and fly against common sense, wouldn’t it?

It is the same with us. Everything we do has to start with us – personal effectiveness, personal power, assertiveness and self-esteem all begin with self-compassion, acceptance and love. Even if your goals are external, it still has to begin from the inside out.

How, you ask? Never fear, Urban Monk is here! We shall go into the practical methods of developing personal power and acceptance right in this post.

Please note from the start that this is just the first step. Once you’ve developed a strong personal view, you have to move into the other points of view. Otherwise, it is likely you’ll have degenerated into selfishness and narcissism. But we’ll cover that as well.

Emotional Self-Compassion

Let’s get started. There are two levels of development that I can think of – the emotional and practical / intellectual. Both are interconnected, therefore each level boosts the other.

The emotional level begins with cultivating self-acceptance, compassion, and love through meditation. I realize that for many people, this is the last thing they want to hear. But it’s interesting that I never consciously needed the practical techniques, described below. It came automatically with enough self-compassion. Still, if this doesn’t sound like you, please skip this section and get to the practical level.

The most powerful exercise I have found for this is the Love and Compassion meditation. In fact, I read that this meditation was initially only saved for advanced students in many monasteries. It has changed the lives of many people I taught it to. Also, do you remember how I warned against degenerating into selfishness? This ensures the opposite – just like the top champagne glass, after some time, you will naturally begin to overflow and touch others. It might take weeks, or even months, but there’s no other way. It has to happen.

Practical self-compassion

The second level is the practical. How do you stand up for yourself and develop assertiveness? There are many different techniques we can try here, but all of them begin with this. It is common sense – to stop someone from crossing the lines, you first have to figure out where the lines are.

Firstly, let’s look at the basic relationship between two people. Let’s imagine you are having an argument with your neighbor, Robert. How many perspectives can there here?

Out of the countless possibilities, these three will likely to be common to all. First, there’s the first person perspective (yours), the second person (Robert’s), and the third person view (an unbiased observer). Actually, there is also a fourth person view, to really ensure fairness, and an unlimited number beyond that, but let’s stick with these for now.

Everyone is naturally strongest in one of the three. Now, people who lack assertiveness are strong in one of the other two perspectives – anyone but their own!

Therefore, to develop practical assertiveness and self-esteem, you have to develop your first person view. This might seem common sense, but I know of many people who are so self-sacrificing that they run themselves to the ground for others. Mothers, for example, often ruin their own health and have no time for themselves because of their great love for their family. But they forget that they themselves are a part of the family and deserve care and affection just like the others.

If you are a mother or another selfless giver who feels offended by this, please remember that by taking care of yourself, you’ll be able to love your children more effectively. The key is to find a balance.

The first person perspective

Enough with the theory! Here’s a technique from NLP called grounding, although it’s merely common sense that someone has given a structure. I’ve adapted it and simplified it a little. There are two ways you can use this. The first is to bring up a difficult situation mentally, when you are alone at home, and practice grounding then. Slowly, given experience, you’ll be able to ground yourself as it occurs.

  1. Pause.
  2. Become aware of your body.
  3. Which parts of your body are tense?
  4. What are your physical sensations?
  5. What are you feeling emotionally right now?
  6. What are you thinking right now?
  7. What exactly is causing the difficulty – the other person’s behavior, the environment, or something else?

If it helps, breathe deeply, and relax all areas of tension. It might help to disconnect from and watch your physical sensations to purge any negativity.

Now you’ve relaxed and gotten a handle on the situation. It’s time to go deeper. This is where you begin to develop your first person perspective. Ask yourself these questions:

  1. “Which part of me is being challenged? Beliefs, values, identity, or something else?”
  2. “What do I want right now?”
  3. “What is important to me right now?”
  4. “What am I doing now that prevents me from getting it?”
  5. “What can I do to help me achieve that?”

Finally, make a choice and follow up on it. Take action. Do you want to assert yourself, or do you want to put the other person ahead of you? I can’t say which is right or wrong – it is up to your values and the situation you are in. I believe that with enough love and compassion for all parties involved, the action you take will be the best you can – this is why the meditation comes recommended as well.

5% increments

Now, if you choose to assert your own view, be warned. Nathaniel Branden, writer of the fantastic Six Pillars of Self-Esteem, recommends working with tiny increments, and I agree.

It’s self-defeating to try to switch from timid mouse to fearless leader straight away. It’s likely that you’ll fail, and when you do, you’ll beat yourself up for it, and lose motivation to try again. Branden, then, recommends a 5% increase every few days.

Let’s return to you and your neighbor. Robert is a sadomasochist who plays Britney Spears loudly at 3 in the morning, and it keeps the entire neighborhood awake. If your first person view is strong enough, you can simply explain your thoughts politely but firmly to him. That should do the trick, if he’s a reasonable man.

But what if you lack the assertiveness? If you try too much at one go, here’s what might happen: You walk up to him, stammer out a few words, and then scurry away. He scratches his head as you leave, confused. He doesn’t even know what you were trying to say, and the Britney torture continues. You hate yourself for failure, and you never bring it up with him again. Instead of fixing things, you just made it worse.

Now, how about if you work your way up? Take baby steps. Try talking to him while looking firmly into his eyes for a day or two. Sounds stupid? Not really. Some people can’t even do that – I couldn’t when I was younger. The next day, step it up a notch, until you reach the stage where you can firmly and politely assert yourself. But before you do, you need the second perspective – or you might become too pushy or rude.

The second person perspective

Now, once you have developed the first person, or if you naturally have a strong person view, let’s move on to the second person view. This prevents you from falling into selfishness, rudeness, or even megalomania.

However, there is also the possibility of using this to become more selfish by manipulating the other person. Many con artists, salespeople, and heartbreakers have a strong second person view – they know exactly which buttons to push to get you to do what THEY want. I wouldn’t recommend this, though – hurting others is essentially hurting yourself. I’ll explain this in a future post.

You can imagine what to do here. Simply imagine yourself in the other person’s shoes, and ask yourself the same questions as you did in the first person exercise.

If you are practicing in your own time, it helps to move position physically as you shift perspectives. Try it, you’ll be surprised. Another alternative (from Gestalt Psychology, if I recall correctly) is to put each perspective into each palm of your hand and hold conversations between the two.

Now, this takes a bit of real world experience and possibly some further reading. For example, gender, educational, cultural, age, and other such differences will have a big influence on how the other person views the situation. You’ll need practice and possibly research to see how their mind really works (and not how you think it should). Still, just taking on this perspective will make a huge difference – many people don’t even try.

Healing broken relationships

Can you see how this exercise can begin to help enhance every relationship you have, or possibly even recover a broken one (no guarantees, though). Let’s return to Robert again. Try to see things from his perspective – maybe he doesn’t know that you can hear his music. Maybe he’s going deaf. Maybe he’s heartbroken, and Britney cheers him up (*cough cough*). Does that help you when you approach him? If you are angry, maybe it will calm you down first. If you are shy, maybe it helps you see him as just another human nothing to be scared of.

Again, the compassion meditation will help if used in conjunction.

How about another situation? Maybe you fought with your sister and want to make up. Developing the two perspectives might help in seeing things from her view. The meditation will soften the walls between you. Calm emotions, shifting perspectives, and compassion for both parties all combine to decide and carry out a course of action.

In fact, these exercises will improve any human interaction. Yes, even with the guy who flips your burgers at lunchtime.

The third person perspective

Next, move to the third person perspective. The questions you ask are a little bit different here. Try to look at the relationship dispassionately.

  1. What kind of relationship is it?
  2. What should you, in the first person, do?
  3. What do you feel and think about you, as the first person?
  4. What do you feel and think about the second person?

Does that bring up any new perspectives or insights? Does that influence what you plan to do?


Now, let’s go a bit deeper. Let’s say you have some new insights on what to do, but you need some assertiveness to pull it off. A good way to develop assertiveness is visualization. This is a common personal development technique, but can be hard to carry out properly.

In essence, you run through your planned actions and reactions in your imagination. Foresee the responses of the other person, and plan your responses to those. Make it as realistic as possible in your imagination. Involve all your senses and include as much detail as you possibly can.

If anyone’s interested, I will write up a post on how to develop your visualization.

Saying No without hurting feelings

Sometimes, once you have explored from all perspectives, the best thing to do is to say no or walk away. For people who have a weak first perspective, though, this might be hard. I believe that this stems from a deep-seated need for approval.

How would you say no without hurting feelings? You’ll be surprised how understanding people can be, if you are polite but firm. Disappointments are a part of life, and most people won’t take it the wrong way. Saying no doesn’t mean you don’t love them.

If they don’t like you because you are standing up for your own rights (and not out of selfishness – hence the importance of the second and third perspectives), are they someone you should even be around? They could be immature, using you, or maybe they’re just not used to your sudden personal power. In the last scenario, give them some time to get used to the new you.

Imagine this. You are busy at work, and your best friend comes in and asks for an hour of your time to help her out. You can love them and still say “No, I understand your predicament, but I would like to finish my work.”

“But you’re so selfish!”

“I understand how you might feel that way, but I would really like to finish my work. I have a deadline to meet.”

“You ^@$^$@$! If you don’t help me, I will lose my job!”

“I’m sorry, I really am. But if I don’t finish this, I will lose MY job.”

Can you see how the third perspective can be the most helpful here? She is your best friend, but you are your best friend too. This example may not be the way you choose to handle it – that is just how I would have done it. How would you handle a disagreement between your two best friends? Compromise, perhaps, or prioritize? Sometimes you would need to tell them to back off. But that is up to you to decide.

Again, if a need for acceptance is at the root of your lack of assertiveness, the meditation will help tremendously. No-one can give you acceptance but yourself.

Let’s see if I can explain this further with a personal story – the day I nearly smashed someone’s head in.

The day I nearly smashed someone’s head in

This argument I remember simply because it was one of the first times I stood up for myself. It was many years ago, and happened at two in the morning. I was in my car, with my date, outside her house. We had just got there and were kissing. Suddenly, another guy a friend of mine who also wanted her – jumped out of his car and started banging on my windows. He had been waiting outside her house (I don’t know why), and was furious when he saw that she had been out with me.

This started a long argument. Initially, it was him yelling and me trying to calm him down. He accused me of stealing his woman, although it was actually fair game (Long story, I won’t bore you with details). Now, this was a long time ago, before I began Personal Development. I had a strong second person view and a nearly non-existent first person view, which meant I couldn’t stand up for myself.

Therefore, I acted as if his accusations were real – that I had betrayed our friendship and stolen his woman. I saw things completely from his view, and not mine. The more I tried to calm him down, the more he saw me as a doormat, and the louder and cockier he got. It reached a point when he became openly abusive, and something snapped. Suddenly, the second person view disappeared and the first person view arose in full force.

I pushed my face into his and began shouting at him – daring him to say it again, if he had the guts. He got scared and began to retreat, and that somehow got me even angrier. I felt an overwhelming urge to break his head open on the pavement.

But I didn’t. Can you guess why I didn’t lose control and attack him? Yes, I was lucky that I also had a strong third person view. There was a part of me that was dispassionately watching, and I knew that I would get into legal trouble if I had followed through on my urges. In the end, all three perspectives balanced out, and we left on an uneasy truce.

Does this little story show the importance of having all three perspectives in your life? If I had a balanced first and second view right from the start, the argument would have been finished a lot sooner, in a more mature and mutually favourable way.

Multiple people involved

I recently had a reader email me about his marriage difficulties. (If you’re reading this, your email account have been giving me error messages, I haven’t ignored you!).

His circumstances were a little harder to discuss – simply because it wasn’t just him and his wife. He had children. Now, it had become a complex web between three, four, or even more people. In my reply, I said I couldn’t give solid advice on what to do – firstly, each relationship is different, and secondly I’m no relationship expert.

What can you do in a case that involves more than two people? There are two choices. The first is to incorporate more perspectives beyond the first, second, and the third. Simply look on it from the fourth perspective, and more as needed. Note the insights you gain.

The second choice is to redo the basic exercise with each person involved. For example, you are the first person, and the second person is your first child. Then do it again – you are the first person, and the second person is your second child. Repeat until everyone has been done.

Maybe it would be the most helpful, but most time consuming, to do both choices. It might help to take a pen and paper and write down all the insights you gain from this exercise.

Naturally, the meditation should be used in conjunction. When you have cultivated as much love as possible for all parties involved, the decision you make will not be as likely to be tinged with the ego or selfishness. While there is never any guarantee the results will be what you want, or even the best for all parties involved, I can’t think of any other way to make a good decision. If anyone could help out, please leave a comment.

The fourth position

Another reader asked me a while back: How do you develop compassion for others while keeping a healthy boundary around yourself? I replied that seeing impartially would be a good way. See everyone as your best friend, including yourself.

Now – back to my personal story. If you think about it, you’ll probably notice something. The third person view wasn’t really fair and unbiased, was it? It mainly had my interests in mind.

So here’s something else you can try. Take a fourth person perspective – looking on all the other three. This is a good way to truly begin to see fairly.

In particular, look at the interaction between the third person and the first. What does the third person think about the first? For example, does the third person think the first person was too weak? Too rude? Too noisy? This will give you good insight into your own mind. Try it for yourself and see.

What’s next?

I would probably post a few exercises on visualization, unless anyone objects?

Also, I would like to ask a question. What do you think of the images I’ve put into the posts? Are they necessary? Do they slow download time? Could you do without them? Do you like them?